Building bridges is a tricky business. But when something big – a raging river, a steep gorge, a sparkling bay – stands in the way of humans getting to where they need to go, they often decide the reward is worth the work, then roll up their sleeves and make the collaborative effort to reach a better place. The gap between technical communicators and content marketers is a daunting one in many organizations – a tricky business all its own. But the benefits realized by bridging the gap between them makes the work of building a truly collaborative relationship worthwhile.
In this second post of four on the relationship between technical communicators and content marketers, I'll explore why both sides can find a better path to where they want to go by working together. Their organization, its current customers, and its potential customers, can all strike gold when the techcomm and content marketing teams take the effort to mine the gap.
More effective technical content; more valuable techcomm teams
When technical communicators and marketing teams align their efforts to make their working relationship truly collaborative, they realize benefits both inside and outside their organization. On the technical content side, one of the biggest advantages comes from insight into benefit-focused language – language that communicates how users' needs and challenges will be met by taking an action – that marketing teams spend so much of their time thinking about. By adding just the right amount of this language, with restraint and subtlety, to select spots in the documentation (usually at the intro/topic level), the docs can actually communicate more effectively with readers. Consider the way the following two introductory sentences come across:
"Workflow management – which allows the specification of content being in progress, in review, or in a final state – is a supported feature which can be accessed by multiple users."
"Workflow management is a feature used for content quality assurance of a given document. Multiple users can check the page's content, review any changes made, and make sure everything is correct."
The addition of a very small amount of benefit language in the second example demonstrates empathy for, and understanding of, the situations users are facing, helping to establish a stronger connection with them. Benefit language can also communicate what values matter to the organization and what problems it cares about solving, which is an effective tool for fostering brand loyalty in a 'non-marketing' context. For another example of this, look to Apple’s documentation. You'll find simply-worded, benefit-influenced communication at the top level of many topics, helping the reader to feel that Apple is focused on them realizing a successful outcome from following the process described.
Yet by collaborating with marketers, perhaps the most transformative benefit techcomm teams receive is a new awareness from the rest of the organization of the value of technical content to the success of the business. Some companies have certainly evolved past the point where this argument is necessary, but from what we've seen there are far too many that are still in the dark about the fact that great technical content is truly a business asset.
The fact is, web-published, high-quality documentation plays an important role in:
- Search engine optimization
- Building the confidence of solution seekers in the research phase
- Ensuring a successful product trial
- Earning loyalty and repeat business post-purchase
- Gaining recommendations from customers
What's more, technical communicators can directly improve the effectiveness of the content marketing team's work by sharing their expertise and collaborating with them – more on that below. The bottom line is that great documentation can make a healthy contribution to the sales revenue pipeline, though this may not be an idea that many documentation teams are used to arguing for in their organizations. Marketing teams on the contrary, are often held accountable for their return on investment. They are quite accustomed to making the case for their business value. When they themselves are benefitting from successful documentation, they can be a powerful advocate for the importance of great technical content to the other organizational stakeholders.
Content marketers mine the gap
We feel that allowing everyone in an organization to contribute to a company's knowledge and documentation in one single place opens up transformative new opportunities in the way doc teams can work. That's why K15t Software makes tools that enable technical communicators to take a highly-collaborative approach to their work. Our tools also just happen to help tech writers easily work together with content creators on the marketing side too. Having a single, versatile collaboration platform – in our case Atlassian Confluence extended with Scroll add-ons – has made it very easy for my small marketing team to reap the many benefits of working collaboratively with our technical communicator colleagues.
When tech writers' talents are brought to bear in collaboration with content marketers, the most important result is that the quality of the content they produce goes up. Just as an engine needs fuel, a content marketing initiative needs raw materials to form the basis of what it creates. High-quality, up-to-date documentation is a wellspring of this material, yielding the raw information that can be used for superb SEO-focused blog posts, success stories, video content, social posts, and more. And when metrics from the documentation are mined – stats like page traffic, time on page, and content entry and exit flow – marketing teams can gain valuable insight as to what problems users are trying to solve for the purposes of content planning. All of this, as you might expect, results in better quality content that more effectively serves readers' needs.
Technical communicators are by definition content creation professionals, and they also happen to be laser-focused on the needs of users. These traits make them uniquely suited to help content marketers achieve a 'virtuous cycle' which continuously improves the efficiency of the content flow in addition to the quality of the results. From the features and benefits of a product, to specific use cases, the information that is the lifeblood of content marketers' work is thoroughly understood by the technical communication team. This knowledge, combined with their communication talents, makes their feedback extraordinarily valuable when it comes to influencing what content is planned. In addition to giving insightful reviews which improve content accuracy, they're also a powerful force to help with content creation if such allocation of manpower is agreed on and planned for collaboratively. By getting the docs team involved in content marketing efforts at K15t Software, we've seen first hand a variety of benefits that better serve both the organization's goals and the needs of the end users who are consuming the content.
Next up: how to get there from here
There is no question in my mind that technical communication teams gain important benefits from collaborating with their colleagues on the marketing side. I've done my best in this post to also give a snapshot of some of the ways the docs team's input has been a big help to our marketing efforts in providing strategically-planned, efficiently-executed, high-quality content to our audience.
By now I hope you're wondering how you can get started on this journey, and what some practical steps are that you can take to help make such collaboration a reality in your organization. If so, stay tuned in the coming weeks for the next two blog posts in this series, which will explore some tactics you can use to build bridges between your technical communication and marketing teams. Next time we'll take a 'light and fast' approach with several tips on tap, while the fourth blog post in this series will have bigger-picture advice on how to make the two departments truly collaborative. As always, comments and feedback are welcome – feel free to reach out with your own opinions on the relationship between technical communication and content marketing.